If you thought you left game-playing and lie-telling people behind in high school and college, think again. Backstabbing, lying and dishonesty can pop up in the workplace, too, and it can make your work life just as miserable as it did in the 12th grade. Whether someone is intentionally trying to sabotage your career or is just trying to get out of work or avoid taking responsibility, lying coworkers can do more than just annoy you -- they can also cost you your job.
Figuring out who is most likely to lie -- and in what circumstances -- can help you identify lying colleagues. A 2011 Psychology Today study indicates that women and men typically lie at the same rates, but they lie for different reasons. Men are more likely to tell other men and women lies that help them save face, like, "I never got the memo, so I couldn't finish the project." Women are more likely to lie to each other about things that will save hurt feelings, like, "No really, your presentation wasn't confusing, it made a lot of sense!"
Some colleagues won't lie straight-up -- they'll be sneaky about it by only telling you half-truths or just keeping mum about things you need to know. This is the colleague who says, “Sorry, I forgot to tell you about that meeting,” or doesn't give you a heads-up that your boss is mad about a missed deadline. Keep an eye out for this sneaky behavior -- the first time it happens, you might be able to brush it off as an oversight, but when it happens over and over, it's on you to wise up to the situation and watch your own back.
The "I didn't do it!" liar is one of the more annoying colleagues to work with. Blame-deflecting liars always try to shift attention away from themselves by pointing the finger at someone else. These people rarely take responsibility for things that go wrong and will attempt to pass the buck and the blame. An example is a coworker who claims she didn't get the email about a change in the production schedule because you forgot to send it, or a colleague who says she turned in a report to you when she never did the report in the first place. These childish people can hurt your reputation if they play the blame game and you're caught in the middle. Protect yourself by keeping track of correspondence -- for example, send emails with a return receipt requested to prove they get your communication.
Coworkers who are out to ruin your reputation or run your career off-track will feed the rumor mill with untruths about you in an effort to better position themselves for success. It can be tough to pin these liars because they often hide behind phrases like, "Just kidding!" An example is a coworker who says she heard you “might be having an affair with the boss” or that you were “fired from your last job because of insubordination.” This kind of person can be dangerous, and won't think twice about taking credit for your work, presenting your ideas as her own, or making waves between you and other people in the office. Steer clear of these drama queens as much as possible. Confront them with their lies, and set the record straight pronto.
While you don't want to go through your professional life paranoid that every colleague is out to get you, it's still a good idea to keep track of sketchy situations where you think a colleague's behavior is questionable. If you figure out a coworker has a pattern of being petty, immature and manipulative, start keeping track of what she says and does that's out of line. Save voice mail messages, emails and memos and document your own work product. If things get ugly, you can always take your case to the boss for intervention.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.